Mounting anger across north Norfolk towns over rise in car-park charges

An angry groundswell of protest against proposed parking fee hikes is gathering force across north Norfolk.

Now a council chief has pledged to listen to alternative proposals for a seasonal charging system - but says a gaping �900,000 budget hole must be plugged.

Helen Eales, leader of the Conservative-controlled North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), said she would love to 'play Fairy Godmother' and scrap charges, but hard decisions had to be taken to avoid an across-the-board two per cent increase in council tax.

The council is proposing to increase charges for car-park users in Cromer, Sheringham, Holt and Wells. While rates would stay the same in North Walsham, Stalham and Fakenham, Walsham would lose its two free car parks with users having to buy season tickets in future. The measures would generate an annual �100,000.

But the plans have been greeted with universal dismay in the affected towns and a call for a re-think before they go to February's full district council meeting.

Town and parish councils are now discussing an alternative idea put forward by the North Norfolk Labour Party which would see 'modest increases' during the tourist season and a reduction in parking ticket prices in winter, keeping year-round costs even for residents.

Mrs Eales said the alternative proposal was 'very interesting and thoughful.' She added: 'I can see where they're coming from. I can't promise that it will be the answer but we would be happy to discuss it further.'

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Common complaints among opponents include fears that increases would deter high street shoppers and play into the hands of out-of-town stores offering free parking.

Peter Stibbons, president of Cromer Chamber of Trade, said traders were already getting a battering and the hike clearly contradicted the recommendations of the government-commissioned report by shopping guru Mary Portas which called for free parking to help high streets.

Cromer mayor Greg Hayman described the proposals as 'disastrous.' He added: 'If they want to find savings why on earth don't they engage with people on the ground and ask for their suggestions?'

Barry Starling, chairman of Sheringham Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said: 'Sheringham, Holt and Cromer are North Norfolk District Council's three premier

towns and they seem to be getting clobbered yet again.

'I do wonder what the impact will be when Tesco appears on Sheringham's

horizon. People are going to start using supermarkets for all their

shopping, where they can park for free.'

Chairman of Holt Town Council Bryan Payne said they felt prices should be the same across the district. 'You have got to work hard to be successful and we shouldn't be penalised for being that,' he said.

In North Walsham Mair Stockdale, chairman of North Walsham Chamber of Trade, said businesses were looking for support from NNDC and didn't expect the council to potentially jeopardise trade by introducing a parking charge.

North Walsham town councillors are calling for an urgent meeting with Wyndham Northam, whose NNDC portfolio includes responsibility for car parks, to hear their concerns and those of Paston College and chamber representatives.

Paston students are among those who regularly make use of one of the

free car parks, on Midland Road.

But Mrs Eales said there were only three free car parks in the district -the third is in Fakenham - and it gave those towns an unfair advantage.

She denied that the seaside towns and Holt had been targeted because they were richer. It was because they attracted tourists.

And she said another of Mary Portas's recommendations, largely

ignored by critics, had been that supermarkets should charge for use

of their car parks.

Mrs Eales added: 'Mary's ideas about free parking are lovely but how are councils supposed to run their services without enough money coming in?'